Thursday, June 23, 2011

grimoire follow-up

Kathleen writes:
I'd also include a field for describing the physical appearance (size, binding material, etc) and condition (stains, scorch marks, loose signatures, torn or chewed pages). That may be more fiddly than you want to get, I realize.
I can see the use in this approach, but my own technique is generally to minimalize visual descriptions whenever possible.  This goes against the grain of most module-writers and their box texts, but those dude were mostly paid by the word.  Personally, I like to paint a picture with as few descriptors as possible, because each player will fill in the rest in their own head.  So for a spellbook I might just say "a musty old tome" or "a scary ass Necronomicon style spellbook" and leave it at that.  If the players ask specific questions then I'll make something up on the spot.

The only time I really like hard specifics is when something can kill the PCs, like deathtraps or something.  Then I'm more than happy to drill down to hard facts.  "But Jeff, that means everyone at the table knows an elaborate description means something deadly is about to happen."  Yeah, I don't care.  There's a million ways you can slant the game in the PCs direction and in the end they still have only so many hit points and they still have to roll saving throws.  As long as the dice are lethal I'm willing to give the players lots of leeway.

A couple folks in the comments on yesterday's posts requested some sample grimoires.  Here ya go:

name: Liber Ivonis
alt name: Book of Eibon
language: original unknown, tr. into Latin
date: ancient
author: Eibon, an ancient, inhuman wizard
blasphemy: A whole cycle of history predated the Garden of Eden, which like Noah's Ark was intended to be a do-over

This first one is a direct Call of Cthulhu rip-off.  All I did was come up with an appropriate blasphemy.

name: 4th Book of Sanchuniathon
alt name: none
language: Ancient Greek, tr. from Ancient Phoenician
date: before the fall of Troy
author: Sanchuniathon of Berytus, translating/interpreting secret inscriptions found on the columns of a ruined Ammonite temple
blasphemy: All gods/angels/etc are ghosts of past kings and heroes

Sanchuthianon of Berytus is cited by a few ancient authors.  In our world he wrote three books (I think they're not extant) translating some weird writing he found in a ruined temple, describing ancient religious practices.  In my Wessex setting his 4th book contained magical incantations from the same source.  The ancients thought he lived before the fall of Troy, but that's probably bogus. The blasphemy is close to Sanchuniathon's actual position in his 3 real books.  He argued that the gods, etc. were simply memories of past kings and heroes.

name: Works of Adamantius
alt name: none
language: Ancient Greek
date: 2nd or 3rd century AD 
author: unknown, quotes suppressed books of Origen
blasphemy: all beings reincarnate up & down the great chain of being

This one I made up, except for the blasphemy.  In a historical fantasy game it stands to reason that some historical figures could be wizards.  This tome assumes that church father Origen (a.k.a. Adamantius) could cast spells and some follower of his wrote down some of them.  The blasphemy is a position Origen actually held, if I understand him right and the translation I read is sound.  Even Satan can eventually be saved in Origen's theology.  I like that a lot.


  1. Just as a heads up, it's not a direct rip-off - canonically, Eibon was quite human.

  2. Cheers Jeff. Thanks for those.

  3. I like these examples very much.

    I can respect the minimal-description approach, but my style tends to be a bit more florid (as you can see!)

  4. @bombshelter:

    It's a typo, I think. He meant "inhumane", as in, he plucked off kittens' whiskers and read aloud extensively from discarded soap opera scripts to his political enemies.

  5. I think there's a happy medium. As a player, I would glaze over florid description, but a striking detail or two leaves me perfectly set to fill in the rest with my imagination.

    I feel like a lot of Michael Moorcock's older (read: good) fiction reads. He doesn;t spend paragraphs describing anything in Elric's world--he gives a striking detail or two that's unusual enough to stick in the imagination, and then he moves on, leaving you to color in the rest. It's great for economy of the imagination.

  6. Anonymous11:39 AM

    I like Origen a lot too — his theology is actually even better than that (for my money, anyway): It's not just that Satan can be saved, he will inevitably be saved. God is almighty and good: it is thus the indelible fate of all creation to end in harmony.

    Worse ideas have been had, I think.

  7. harmony, entropy...

    (...side by side on my piano keyboard?)